Dear Prudence

Help! My Mother-in-Law Is Trashing the Name I Swore to Give My Daughter.

She says my reasons are “bizarre.”

A pregnant woman holds her belly with one hand and her hip with the other hand in front of a nametag graphic
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Halfpoint/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here.

Dear Prudence,

I lost my best friends in a car accident when I was 19. We had literally known each other since we were in diapers. We had all these plans: travel, college, careers, and kids. All that was cut short by some a-hole who ran a red light. Since then, I vowed that if I had a daughter, I would name her after them. I am married with a son. My husband’s family has a tradition of using the grandparents’ names, especially the boys. I didn’t have a problem with this, but I am pregnant with a girl now. I have spoken at length with my husband over the years about wanting to honor my old friends. He also agreed and said he understood.

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But recently, at a family event, he let slip to his mother what we were going to name our daughter. She has never been my biggest fan, but I thought our relationship had mellowed out over the years. She later cornered me and asked me if I was “really” going to name my daughter that. I was taken back and told her that I had been holding onto the name for years. I wanted to honor my friends. My mother-in-law told me that was “bizarre,” that you name children after family, not “some dead girls” I knew in high school. That hit me hard and I started to cry. She backed off and didn’t say anything else for a while. I thought that was the end of it and didn’t mention it to my husband. I didn’t want to start anything.

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Only my MIL had other plans. She went around the family and told people what happened—only making me out to be crazy. Since then, I have had everyone from my sister-in-law to other relatives bring up the topic of the name. They all think it is weird, awkward, and “way too ethnic” (one of my friends was Spanish). Even with my husband shutting his family down, it’s like swatting flies. It doesn’t help that my hormones are all over the place and I don’t know if I am going to burst into tears or bust someone’s lip. I have repeatedly said the topic is over and physically have walked away. We all live in the same neighborhood, so avoiding everyone is hard. Plus, my husband works at the family business.

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—Rose by Any Other Name

Dear Rose,

You’re doing exactly the right thing. You need one good line to shut down further input. Something like “[Husband] and I are going to name our baby together. And it will be a surprise to everyone else.” Physically walking away is the perfect reaction if relatives keep going. You have to train these people to understand that you don’t care about their input and they don’t have a say. That means no more negotiating, explaining, or otherwise going back and forth with them. They will love the baby when she’s born and call her whatever you tell them to.

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Dear Prudence,

My partner and I have a (hitherto) solid relationship. Heading toward marriage, a house, and kids. They earnestly want those things, soon, and bring them up more than I do. I’ve said I’m on board.

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I recently learned that they are thinking about going back for a Ph.D. That means no geographic stability, their penuriousness for some number of years (or forever), and the household on my shoulders, if it is to exist at all. I’m hurt. My partner has the right to their own ambitions, but this one suggests they are fundamentally unserious about the life we’ve talked about building. How should I be reacting? I know I have to talk to them.

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—PhDon’t

Dear PhDon’t,

This is great. What I mean by that is it’s wonderful that you’re not married yet! Or even engaged! Something like “one of us is thinking about getting a Ph.D.” is exactly the sort of thing you should be discussing as you start to go beyond fantasizing to making practical plans about marriage, a house, and kids. Your partner actually brought it up at the right time. You ask “How should I be reacting?” and the answer is you should take them seriously. That means asking about how much they want to pursue this goal (just “thinking about it” isn’t the same as committing) and how they see it affecting your plans. Tell them how you truly feel about that. And rather than accuse them of being unserious about your life together or trying to change their mind, you should take this new information and decide whether you still want that life.

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How to Get Advice From Prudie

Submit your questions anonymously here. (Questions may be edited for publication.) Join the live chat every Monday at noon (and submit your comments) here.

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Dear Prudence,

I stopped drinking last year and will soon celebrate one year sober. I am also retiring. When my spouse retired last year, it was during my early days of sobriety and their party was a big stressor for me. Looking ahead to my retirement, I know that they are going to want to return the favor and host some kind of event for me. Frankly, I am OK not throwing a party for several reasons. 1) Lockdown and sobriety have shown my true colors: I am not a people person! And 2) at the end of the party, there were countless bottles of booze, wine, and craft beer on the table as gifts. While I appreciate the thought of a gift, anything alcohol-related will be tossed. If we do have a party, how can we politely ask that the gifts NOT be alcohol? My sobriety isn’t widely publicized on my social media, so people most likely think I still drink. Is there a way to navigate this so people don’t waste their money on a gift that will not be used? Any suggestions are very much appreciated.

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—Sober and Soon to Be Retired

Dear Sober,

I can’t tell whether you want to keep your sobriety private or if you simply haven’t gotten around to letting people know. If you don’t want to share the news that you aren’t drinking anymore: Simply have your spouse toss all the alcohol (or give it away on your local Buy Nothing group—someone would love it!). If you’re comfortable letting people know: Your partner can simply make a note on the invitation that it’s a dry party and request that people not bring liquor. There’s probably not a way around preventing people from wasting money on a gift that won’t be used without telling them the truth.

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But honestly, it sounds like you don’t want this party in the first place, for reasons unrelated to your sobriety. If you’re not a people person, you don’t have to do it! The pandemic is still a workable excuse, by the way. Tell your partner that you’d like to celebrate with just the two of you, and have them make a celebratory post on Facebook. Everyone can write “congratulations” under it. And you can stay sober and avoid being forced to socialize.

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Dear Prudence,

My co-workers, “Mary” and “Joe,” have been having an affair since before COVID hit. Both are married, but Joe’s wife “Jane” works for a different department as a supervisor. I had the unfortunate luck to discover Mary and Joe have been using me as a cover to their spouses and our bosses.

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On business trips, Mary would disappear at night saying she was meeting up with “old friends.” Only I caught her coming out of Joe’s room. They have also told people we were all going out to lunch together as a team when I was eating alone.

I am the youngest and most recent hire at my company. I felt like I had no choice but to ignore it. During the lockdown, we all worked from home and didn’t see each other in person. I thought everything blew over until Jane pulled me aside and told me she didn’t appreciate my flirty tone with her husband even though she knew I was gay and didn’t mean any harm with my texts.

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I froze up. I never gave Joe my private number. I apologized to Jane, and now I don’t know what to do. Going to HR feels like blowing everything up to kingdom come; confronting Joe and Mary is a good way to screw over my career; and I don’t feel comfortable going to my bosses. They have made enough off-color jokes that they might know about the affair. What the hell do I do?

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—Low Woman on the Pole

Dear Low Woman,

I don’t think going to HR would be out of line here. These people are making your workplace uncomfortable for you. They’re the ones who blew everything up. But if you’d rather address it personally first, send Joe an email saying “Jane recently pulled me aside and told me she didn’t appreciate my flirty tone with you over text. I was so confused that I froze up and apologized, but we both know that we have never communicated outside of work. It seems like there’s been a major misunderstanding (perhaps an issue about the way you have names saved in your phone?) and I’m concerned about the impact on my career and reputation. Would you please clear this up with her? Thank you. I’d like to be left out of conversations about this moving forward.”

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Dear Prudence Uncensored

“I hate that she has to continue running away from these people for the rest for her pregnancy.”

Jenée Desmond-Harris and friends discuss a letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.

Dear Prudence,

I really struggle with some of my friends’ dogs. We’re younger middle-aged adults, and I am the only one with joint issues. My joint issues make me more like an elderly person in terms of stability and fragileness. My friends are generally aware of this, but they do forget since we’re younger, and I don’t bring it up all the time. The issue is with some of their dogs. I would be happy to pet their dogs and enjoy them, but the dogs end up stepping on my feet or jumping on me—which causes me a lot of pain due to my joint issues. I’ve tried to signal that I don’t want them jumping on me by backing up, telling them I can’t have the dogs walk on me, explaining this is a new outfit, yelping when they scratch me (or worse, stick their snout up my dress into my crotch), etc., etc., but nothing seems to work. Or it will work in the beginning, but then they’ll forget later, and I’m dealing with dogs all over my feet and back in my crotch. I’m honestly at the point where I’m afraid I’m going to kick or hit the dog in an involuntary response to protect myself (pain can cause you to do that), and I don’t want this to happen. How do I get across to my friends that I really can’t interact with their dogs without offending them? Also, WHY DON’T PEOPLE TRAIN THEIR DOGS NOT TO JUMP ON YOU!!!

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—Please Get Your Dogs Off My Gimpy Feet

Dear Please Get Your Dogs,

My mom has this exact issue, except that she actually is an elderly person in terms of stability and fragileness. It’s a big problem, especially at public parks and beaches where a friendly off-leash dog could easily knock her to the ground and really hurt her. I asked her for her advice to you and here it is:

“Well, if you turn around with your back facing the dog, it discourages them from jumping on you. Or take these folks off your friends list! Too harsh? Maybe the dog owners don’t want your company and allowing the dog to step, sniff, and jump on you is their way of saying we’re no longer interested in your friendship!”

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I love the practical tip about turning around. But I do think jumping to the assumption that your friends are trying to get rid of you by letting their dogs sniff your crotch may be a bit harsh. As you suggested, these people are probably having a hard time remembering that it hurts when their dogs are all over you. I would say, as a first step, make it explicit to your friends that it’s not just that you don’t want the dogs to attack you—you actually can’t have them touching you at all. Explain that you have joint issues, and even seemingly harmless, friendly contact can hurt. A good time to do this would be before the next hangout.

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Here’s a script: “I would love to come! But first I wanted to check to see whether it would be practical for you to keep the dogs from touching and licking me. I have a lot of joint pain, and even their friendly contact can really hurt. I know it might not be practical, so no hard feelings if they need to be able to roam freely. If that’s the case, maybe we can meet up another time somewhere more comfortable for me. Let me know!”

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Give Prudie a Hand in “We’re Prudence”

Sometimes even Prudence needs a little help. Every Thursday in this column, we’ll post a question that has her stumped. This week’s tricky situation is below. Join the conversation about it on Twitter with Jenée @jdesmondharris on Thursday, and then look back for the final answer here on Friday.

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Dear Prudence,

Several weeks ago, my boyfriend’s cousin asked him to help her move in. My boyfriend has back issues, but gladly accepted because he is someone who loves to help people. I reminded him of his back issues and told him I was worried about him helping her. For context, his cousin makes almost three times what my boyfriend makes and could easily afford movers, but didn’t want them. Like I guessed, my boyfriend hurt his back. He had to go to urgent care and then to his doctor the next week. He was left with a ton of medical bills. His doctor also told him he needed physical therapy, but he can’t take any more medical bills. His cousin hasn’t even offered to cover anything. I told my boyfriend that she might be liable because it happened on her property, but he is reluctant to ask for even splitting the bills.

I know he’s an adult who has to deal with his own issues, but this is now starting to affect our relationship. I make more money than him, and even before this, we already had some arguments about spending money on social things. I like doing nice things sometimes and he doesn’t, but he also objected to me paying for them. Now, not only does he not have any extra income, but he does not have the physical capability to do any of the fun things we used to do. I’ve offered to pay for at least some of the sessions of physical therapy, just to hopefully show him how important they are, but he has refused. I’m really at a loss here with what to do. We basically now sit in his apartment and watch TV, which is getting old. It’s going to be summer soon and I want to do a ton of things that require him to be recuperated. What should I do?

—Frustrated

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Update, March 10, 2022: This column originally included a “We’re Prudence” letter that had been previously answered in Care and Feeding. You can read it here.

Dear Prudence,

I just got an invitation for a friend’s virtual wedding, which states that only the family and the wedding party will attend in person. I’m irrationally upset about this. First, five of my dear friends (which is most of them!) have gotten married in the past two years and didn’t do anything in person; I LOVE weddings, and I love them all, and it’s been heartbreaking to miss these major events.

Second, I’m hurt that I’m not in the wedding party, and wasn’t even given a heads-up about it—truly surprising given how close I thought we were. Third, I cannot muster any enthusiasm to sit on my computer after a 40-hour workweek already spent online, when the wedding itself is happening 20 minutes away! Part of me thinks I should suck it up and attend online, but I know that my crappy energy isn’t what’s called for on such a special occasion. I want to RSVP “no,” but should I tell the truth (which would include expressing sadness about being left out and maybe a total reevaluation and possible ending of our friendship) or tell a lie so I don’t hurt their feelings? I’m spiraling and need some rational, outside input. Thank you!

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—Never a Bridesmaid

Dear Never a Bridesmaid,

Your position is really challenging my long-held view that people are never as eager to be invited to attend or participate in weddings as brides tend to believe they are. You truly wanted to be included in this one, and that hurts.

I can think of a lot of reasons that could explain why you didn’t make the list. Maybe the bride chose the women she’s been friends with since kindergarten. Maybe she picked people whose wedding parties she’s been part of. Maybe after her sister and cousin, she had one more spot, but she couldn’t decide between you and the third person in your group chat, so she thought it would be better to pick neither. Maybe she planned this wedding on the fly and selected the people whom she felt closest to one particular week two months ago. And sure, maybe she simply has other, closer friends. That doesn’t mean you’re less close than you thought you were. It means she has relationships whose depth you weren’t aware of.

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You are obviously allowed to RSVP no for any reason, and to tell the bride why if that will make you feel better. But I don’t think it will. You seem like you really value friendship and connection, and blowing up this relationship over your hurt feelings (some of which involve the five other virtual weddings, which have nothing to do with this one) is unlikely to make you happier. If you can log on for 30 minutes (with your camera off if you want!), I think that would serve you well. You say yourself that your anger is irrational, so don’t let it drive your decisions. There will be more weddings. You’ll be in some of them. There will be more opportunities to socialize. There will be other friendships. Give yourself a chance to have some positive post-pandemic-restrictions experiences while you keep an eye on your relationship with the bride and keep tabs on how you feel about it. It’s possible that she might do something in the future that will justify ending the friendship, but I really don’t think this is it.

Classic Prudie

I have a friend with whom I used to be quite close. But for the past few years, he’s had a growing obsession with Internet trolling. He spends most of his free time on Twitter trying to get a rise out of minor celebrities and reporters. I find this behavior childish and off-putting, but he gets a huge thrill when his targets respond to his baiting. He has a group of “friends” on social media who cheer him on, which I also find off-putting. Is there a kind and tactful way to suggest he look for a new hobby? Or should I just let our friendship continue to dwindle away?

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